Mayor Ed Murray signs an executive order on January 3, 2014, to raise wages for city employees. Is he going back on that deal?
  • Mayor's Office
  • Mayor Ed Murray signs an executive order on January 3, 2014, to raise wages for city employees. Is he going back on that deal?

Tomorrow is a big day for Seattle. You know how some believe election day should be a holiday, so people don't have to fit the exercise of their voting rights around their work schedules? Similarly, if we really wanted to encourage the people of Seattle to participate in their own governance, there'd be some kind of break for folks so that we can all participate in some really important budgeting of billions of city taxpayer dollars.

Anyhow, the city council is going to hash out the budget for the following year tomorrow. One of the key items in question is the salaries for hundreds of city workers who currently make less than $15 per hour. As George Howland Jr. at Real Change points out, Mayor Ed Murray issued an executive order upon taking office to raise wages for those employees. That meant "the City’s Director of Budget and Director of Personnel will start working right away to raise the minimum wage of all City of Seattle Employees to $15 an hour," the mayor's website declared. The mayor said he wanted to "move quickly," the order even mentioned "possible retroactivity to the start of 2014," and he got a lot of positive press for the move, which seemed to signal his commitment to raising wages swiftly.

But Murray's budget package submitted to the city council didn't contain any funds to increase their wages. So what gives? Council Members Kshama Sawant, Mike O'Brien, and Jean Godden offered their own budget modification to do just that, provisioning just over $1 million of the city's general sub-funds in order to "increase the minimum wage for all city job titles to $15 an hour in 2015."

Godden has since withdrawn her name from the proposal, but her early support was vital in getting it the three votes necessary to get it through early budget negotiations. Her staffers told me Godden is satisfied with raising those workers' wages at the same rate as everyone else's, according to the three-year schedule for large employers agreed to in May by the mayor's minimum wage committee.

Tomorrow, the Sawant/O'Brien proposal to raise wages for city employees next year is expected to be offered as part of a "consent package" for the council's version of the budget. But the mayor's office has been lobbying against it, according to sources at city hall. When I pressed mayoral spokesman Jason Kelly, he would only say that that the mayor has been "sharing his perspective" with the council members that "a deal is a deal"—referring to the landmark minimum wage deal agreed to back in May. He also said Murray will sign the budget regardless of how the council handles this question.

"It’s politics from the city," Ian Gordon, business manager of Laborers Local 1239, which represents about 100 of the city’s lowest-wage workers, told Real Change. He went on:

Union leader Gordon said he hopes the city council will add funding. “The people I represent mostly make $12.97 an hour,” he said. The majority work as recreation attendants for Seattle Parks and Recreation, answering phones, checking out equipment and helping direct sports and other games.

Other workers who Gordon represents who earn less than $15 an hour include some golf-course groundskeepers and parks-maintenance aides. He said other low-wage city workers that he does not represent include dining-room attendants at Seattle Center and cashiers.

“This is really a hardship,” said Gordon. “They can’t live in this city.”

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If the Sawant/O'Brien proposal is going to be stripped out of the council's budget, one of the council members is going to have to propose to remove it and then get a majority vote to knock it out. "Someone is going to have to make a move to pull that out, which would be pretty bold," said a council staffer who asked for anonymity because budget negotiations are ongoing.

With the earnings of hundreds of city employees hanging in the balance, keep an eye out tomorrow morning. The budget hearings start bright and early at 8:30 a.m and will be streamed live on Seattle Channel's website.

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